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UK police are putting tactic to use to fight crime

Romanian audio specialist Dr. Catalan Grigoras, now director of the National Center for Media Forensics at the University of Colorado, Denver, made an intriguing discovery about a decade ago. The ubiquitous hum of modern society follows a unique pattern that allows many recordings to be validated.  Now police in the United Kingdom have begun to use the tactic to verify evidence in important court cases.

I. Industry's Silent Song

Recordings traditionally have been a highly unreliable form of evidence, given that they could easily be cleverly staged or tampered with.

That's where the hum comes in.  Electrical sources such as light poles and power outlets emit a near imperceptible hum.  While centered around the frequency of the alternating current (50 Hz in the UK), the hum dips and rises by a few thousandths of a hertz over time.  The frequency drops when demand outpaces supply, and rises when supply outpaces demand.

Given a long enough window, this pattern of rising and falling frequencies is virtually unique, as Dr. Grigoras found.

Power Grid grid
[Image Source: UCSC Silicon Valley Extension]

But by using a technique called Electric Network Frequency (ENF) analysis, law enforcement can store the pattern of the hum for a particular grid in a database.  The Metropolitan Police lab has been compiling such a database in recent years, as has JP French Associates -- another UK forensics lab.

Comments JP French's Dr. Phillip Harrison to BBC News, "We can extract [the hum from a recording] and compare it with the database - if it is a continuous recording, it will all match up nicely.  If we've got some breaks in the recording, if it's been stopped and started, the profiles won't match or there will be a section missing. Or if it has come from two different recordings looking as if it is one, we'll have two different profiles within that one recording."

II. A New Time Stamp, but Could it be Gamed?

A trio of London gangsters -- Hume Bent, Carlos Moncrieffe and Christopher McKenzie -- recently saw their defense against London Metropolitan Police charges of gun dealing fall apart thanks to ENF.  Dr. Alan Cooper, a Met Police ENF expert, validated police recordings of weapons deals using the grid buzz, scientifically damaging the defense's claim that the recordings were tampered with.

London gang suspects
London Gang guns
A trio of gun dealers were sentenced with the help of ENF verification of police evidence.
[Image Souce: PA]

The trio was founded guilty and sentenced to prison for a total of 33 years.

It seems appropriate the novel forensics method has been pioneered in the birthplace of fiction's Sherlock Holmes.  But in years ahead, some questions about ENF remain unanswered.  For example, while individuals would be unlikely to be able fake the ENF hum, it might be feasible, albeit extremely difficult, for a police force to filter out the hum in a recording and dub in a hum at the time they wish to make the recording appear from, given that they have access to the entire database of recordings.

It might be even possible for a citizen skilled in audio recording to carry out such a feat.  Thus the technique may lay to rest questions of cruder tampering, but may still have flaws of its own.  For that reason, in time it will probably be used as a piece of a richer evidence puzzle, also composed of other circumstantial clues like cell phone tower records or surveillance footage.

Source: BBC



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o-scope vs human ear
By sixteenornumber on 12/14/2012 7:40:13 PM , Rating: 2
you may not hear much but guess what? US power grid is 60hz while the UK is 50hz. sure the human ear can hear down to around 20Hz give or take. Almost everyone can hear 50 or 60 Hz without issue. The problem here is that the speaker in your phone will not play these freq. Even if they did, an o-scope is going to display this far better than even the most capable ears.




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